Meat eaters aren't exactly giving up meat, but they are digging into meatless burgers. Here's why.

By Alexandra Emanuelli
September 23, 2020
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Portrait of young woman eating Hamburger
Credit: Westend61 / Getty Images

Most of us know we should be eating less meat. It's better for our bodies and for the planet, as numerous health and environmental studies have reported. Yet Americans are, by and large consuming the same, if not larger, quantities of meat than they were 20 years ago, according to a recent USDA report. Even so, plant-based meats are more than just a trend, they are big business.

Impossible Foods has acquired nearly $800 million in venture funds, and Beyond Meat had a nearly 500% surge in its stock after going public in May 2019. Investment firm UBS is projecting that plant-based meats will reach sales of $30 billion by 2030. How do these two trends go hand in hand? Speaking with Caroline Bushnell, associate director of corporate engagement at the Good Food Institute, and Michael Robbins, communications consultant at the Plant Based Foods Association, we find out what's driving carnivores to sink their teeth into plant-based burgers.

Reasons to Love a Plant-Based Burger

The rise in alternative meats could be understood as just another savory option for the dinner table. "Consumers enjoy diversity in their diet," Robbins explains. "And plant-based meats offer that diversity, combined with great tasting foods that are significantly better for the environment."

Both companies position their products as tasting similar to the conventional options with no loss of flavor. Beyond Meat's website waxes: "Imagine your favorite meaty dishes like burgers and tacos delivering the juicy, delicious taste you know and love, while being better for you and the planet." Impossible Foods' Impossible Whopper commercial, featuring incredulous men reacting in disbelief that their burgers were plant-based, became a buzz-worthy sensation.

While some individuals are guided by a desire to help the environment or eat less meat for their personal health, the majority are adding this product to their diets as a flexible and tasty option. Shopping cart data from Beyond Meat shows that consumers purchasing plant-based alternatives are also filling their baskets with conventional meat products. "Consumer research consistently shows that the key drivers are taste, price and convenience," explains Bushnell. "That's what we're seeing in plant-based meat increasingly being shelved directly beside conventional meat in the meat department. The option is being introduced to so many more consumers and households, and you've got these products now that are really delivering on taste."

Fast Food Familiarity

From Subway to Burger King, Qdoba and the Cheesecake Factory, the addition of plant-based meats on menus created a low-risk environment for consumers to try out the new trend. As Robbins explains, "The growth in retail sales and the explosion of plant-based food options in restaurants will continue as consumers continue to enjoy the range of great-tasting plant-based food options."

Post Burgers

While ground plant-based meats and sausages have become common and widely available, steaks, chops, and whole cuts are still uncharted territory. As Bushnell notes, "Ground products are easier to produce, but companies are working on whole muscle cut. I think that's going to be a really exciting innovation. Products are going to continue to taste better, and I think we're going to see rapidly increasing consumer penetration in the category and adoption."

As consumer demand and investment increases in these products, many argue that the price will reflect that those drivers, making alt-meats even more enticing.

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